Live from The Metropolitan Opera, international sensation Anna Netrebko sings Elvira Walton (and her famous mad scene) in I Puritani, a spectacular production revived especially for Ms. Netrebko. The stellar cast includes tenor Eric Cutler as Arturo, Franco Vassallo as Riccardo, and John Relyea as Giorgio. The Music Director of the Houston Grand Opera, Patrick Summers, conducts the magnificent Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Included is a bonus DVD containing revealing conversations between Anna Netrebko and Renée Fleming, as well as the late Beverly Sills. The stunning performance on this DVD has been adored by millions of people already through its live transmission in high-definition to movie theatres in the US, Canada and Europe, and broadcasted live on Metropolitan Opera Radio and on Sirius Satellite radio channel 85.
It's hard to imagine a video opera collection without this superbly sung MET production of Bellini's I Puritani
. Not that it's perfect by any means, but its excellences--most especially Anna Netrebko's electrifying singing and acting of Elvira--banish carping about other aspects of this memorable night at the opera. Netrebko is fragile from the start, her facial expressions and hand movements immediately conveying the girl's vulnerability. She has a mad scene in each act; the first when she realizes her fiancé has disappeared with another woman, the third, in the final act, a brief relapse when her returned fiancé is taken by the army to be executed. But it's in the second act that the real fireworks occur, with a Mad Scene that rivals Donizetti's Lucia for bel canto primacy. Here, Elvira is first heard off-stage, after the chorus has informed us that she's deranged. She enters wearing her wedding gown and begins Qui la voce
in a voice as frail as her psyche. Netrebko is gripping here, wandering up and down the central staircase, a lost, pathetic creature. Later in the scene she delivers a spectacular display of theatrics as well as fearless vocalism by singing a florid coloratura passage while lying on her back, her head dangling into the orchestra pit.
Tenor Eric Cutler is her fiancé, Arturo, who helps the Stuart Queen escape from the Puritan stronghold, not a wise move in Cromwell's England, not to mention unhinging Elvira. Bellini gives Arturo one of the most cruelly taxing entrance arias in opera, A te o cara, which Cutler delivers with aplomb. His singing throughout is ardent, well-tinted, and easeful. As Elvira's uncle, bass John Relyea is in excellent voice, his big Act III aria especially well done. Franco Vassallo, as Riccardo, Arturo's rival, is more generic, his baritone lacking the color and shading to bring the character to life. Conductor Patrick Summers leads singers and the superb MET Orchestra in an idiomatic performance, allowing the long lines of Bellinian melody to ripen and expand while also generating excitement in the more dramatic scenes.
Visually Sandro Sequi's 30-year-old production with sets by Ming Cho Lee, is showing its age, but the lighting and video direction (by Gary Halvorson) manage to make it look better than it did in the house. Sharon Thomas' stage direction is largely limited to the stand-and-sing variety, the chorus composed into static formations that make for pretty still photos but lack life. Much of the acting is rudimentary, with the singers looking either bored or stiff or engaged in stock generic emoting. Only Netrebko surpasses this with acting that's on par with her singing--consumed by the character, intense and knowing in her subtle movements and reactions, conspiring with Bellini to make this a must-have. --Dan Davis